The Best 10 Fitness Trackers – Top Fitness-Focused Wearables for 2020!

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We started 2020 by updating this article on the best fitness trackers on the market, including a chart full of modern classics and some newer devices that made an instant impact.

These newer additions included the premium Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and the upgraded Apple Watch Series 5. We also added the impressive Coros Pace GPS and – one for the kids – the Garmin vívofit Jr 2.

The winner after the latest chart update:
Garmin-Fenix-6-Pro-1
  • Battery life: Up to 2 weeks
  • Sleep Tracking: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes (10ATM)
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Features: Multiple bezel and case construction options, multiple lens materials, 1.3” display, always-on screen, multiple activity tracking, multinetwork satellite reception, Pulse Ox sensor, smartphone notifications, music storage, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)

Up until the twenty-first century, accurately tracking your daily activity, heart rate, sleep and calories was pretty difficult to achieve – unless you enjoyed carrying around several different devices or a team of sports scientists!

Thankfully, since the invention of the Fitbit and other activity trackers, it’s never been more convenient or affordable to own a wearable device that helps track, analyze and motivate you through your workouts.

In 2020, the market is flooded with excellent fitness trackers and fitness-focused smartwatches. In this article, we are taking a look at ten of the best devices on the market today, from high-end smartwatches to budget wristbands – each with mini reviews, pros and cons.

After this, comes our complete guide to buying a good fitness tracker to suit you, with all the design, build and feature considerations you should make ahead of a purchase.

Top 10 Best Fitness Trackers:

Pros

  • Premium design and military-grade build
  • Superior activity tracking and analysis
  • Great smartwatch features including music storage
  • 10ATM water resistance rating makes it ideal for triathlons

Cons

  • May be too feature-rich for more casual users
  • The high-end build is reflected with a premium price

Battery life: Up to 2 weeks
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (10ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Features: Multiple bezel and case construction options, multiple lens materials, 1.3” display, always-on screen, multiple activity tracking, multinetwork satellite reception, Pulse Ox sensor, smartphone notifications, music storage, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)

Garmin’s Fenix collection is synonymous with quality fitness tracking and the newest Fenix 6 Pro is a deserved chart topper. This higher-end device is oozing with fitness tracking features, with superb analysis for all kinds of activities, from running and swimming to strength, golf and skiing.

It’s built like a tank with a robust 10ATM water-resistance rating, featuring an always-on screen that is a fraction larger than previous Fenix models. The built-in multi-satellite GPS and heart rate monitoring is top-notch, as you’d expect from the Fenix series.

In addition to fitness tracking, it is packed with smartwatch features including NFC payments, music storage (up to 2,000 songs) and smartphone notifications. The premium build is matched by a premium price tag, but this is an astounding device.

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Pros

  • Offers the best run tracking and performance analysis on the market
  • Excellent multi-satellite run mapping
  • Features a two-week battery life
  • Performs perfectly as a daily smartwatch with music and contactless payments

Cons

  • Quite an expensive device
  • Casual users will find the features too extensive

Battery life: Up to 2 weeks
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Features: Two color choices, multinetwork satellite reception, Pulse Ox sensor, workout and training plans, smartphone notifications, music storage, safety tracking features, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)

Garmin’s Forerunner series is a highly-respected collection in the running community, and the new 945 is the most premium part of that list. If you are happy to pay the higher-end price tag, you will be rewarded by one of the best running watches ever made.

The 945 features everything the modern runner needs in terms of tracking, analysis and convenience. Tracking is extensive, with everything from onboard multi-satellite run mapping and heart rate monitoring, to training status, VO2 Max estimates, recovery time and so much more.

It is also the go-to watch for triathletes, with a 5ATM water-resistance rating and excellent battery life allowing it to perform wherever it goes. Throw in music storage, smartphone notifications and NFC payments, and you’ll never want to take it off!

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Pros

  • Gorgeous Apple design and robust build quality
  • Vibrant always-on Retina display
  • Fantastic tracking for multiple activities
  • Extensive smartwatch features are hard to beat

Cons

  • Only compatible with iPhones
  • Very poor battery life

Battery life: Up to 18 hours
Sleep Tracking: No
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Features: Multiple color choices, Ion-X strengthened glass, aluminum body, OLED Always-On Retina display, built-in compass, multinetwork satellite reception, barometric altimeter, smartphone notifications, music storage, female health tracking, NFC payments (Apple Pay)

Pushing for top spot is this sensational wearable from Apple, with a big focus on fitness in addition to the exceptional smartwatch features. The Series 5 builds on everything on offer with previous iterations, although with new functions that fitness buffs will love.

This includes an always-on Retina display, which makes viewing your data midway through a workout a cinch. You will also find multinetwork satellite reception, barometric altimeter, and both heart rate and ECG sensors.

It tracks multiple activities with great precision, although excels at running, with new features such as pace alerts making training easier. Of course, the smartwatch features help justify its higher-end price, with call-making, music streaming and contactless payments, among many others.

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Pros

  • Tracks 15 activities with good accuracy
  • Offers a good battery life
  • Can be used for swimming, with a 5ATM rating
  • Includes NFC, smartphone notifications and Amazon Alexa

Cons

  • Doesn’t feature built-in GPS
  • Basic tracking won’t appeal to more serious athletes

Battery life: More than 6 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: No
Features: Aluminum frame, color AMOLED screen, tracks 15 activities, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, SmartTrack exercise recognition, smartphone notifications, built-in microphone, breathing training, female health tracking, music control, NFC payments (Fitbit Pay), built-in Alexa

Fitbit’s Versa 2 may be one of the best-value offerings on the market at the moment, with a stylish design, robust build, great fitness tracking, and some solid smartwatch features worthy of a higher price tag.

This affordable wearable boasts a suave design with definite Apple Watch qualities about it, featuring a rounded square shape, aluminum housing and a vibrant AMOLED screen. This is all protected by a swim-proof 5ATM water-resistance rating.

It automatically tracks 15 different activities including running, cycling and swimming, with sleep tracking and 24/7 heart rate monitoring – although no built-in GPS. Still, features such as smartphone notifications, a built-in Alexa assistant, and NFC contactless payments are welcome additions at this price. An excellent watch for both beginners and casual runners.

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Pros

  • One of the best swimming watches around
  • Offers underwater wrist-based heart rate monitoring
  • Includes built-in GPS for reliable activity tracking
  • Stylish and functional enough for day-to-day use

Cons

  • Only worthwhile for serious swimmers
  • Less smartwatch features than others in its price range

Battery life: Up to 7 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Features: Two color choices, chemically strengthened glass, always-on Chroma Display, multinetwork satellite reception, multiple activity tracking, stress tracking, smartphone notifications

While the majority of the devices on this list will cope well with swimming, none are quite as detailed in the pool as the swim-dedicated Garmin Swim 2.

With five physical buttons, this robust 5ATM-rated watch performs well in both the pool and open water, including built-in GPS to track your movements in the sea, lakes and rivers. In addition to distance and pace, the Swim 2 monitors your stroke type, stroke count, SWOLF score and plenty of other data.

Impressively, this device also reliably captures your heart rate in the water via your wrist using Garmin’s Elevate technology. Out of the water, it is stylish, comfortable and convenient enough to wear all day, with features including daily activity tracking and smartphone notifications.

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Pros

  • Stylish, robust and lightweight design
  • Battery life lasts up to one month!
  • Multiple satellite connectivity for accurate run tracking
  • Excellent value at under $200

Cons

  • Less smartwatch features than others in its price range

Battery life: Up to 30 days
Sleep Tracking: No
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Features: Multiple color choices, aluminosilicate glass, multinetwork satellite reception, barometric altimeter, smartphone notifications, UltraSync technology

When it comes to affordable running watches, we have a lot of admiration for the Coros Pace GPS, which crams solid activity tracking features into an attractive watch with a sub-$200 price tag.

This lightweight device makes use of built-in multinetwork satellite reception to deliver reliable run tracking and performance data, offering all the metrics you need. In addition, the Pace GPS is worth having on your wrist while cycling and swimming, making it an excellent choice for triathletes.

Unlike some other wearables, this one won’t die on you midway through an event, with an exceptional battery life lasting up to 30 days (or 25 hours in GPS mode)! It also easily syncs to your smartphone, with the accompanying Coros app providing deeper insight into your workouts.

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Pros

  • Features 15 different tracking profiles
  • Able to track swimming, with a 5ATM water-resistance rating
  • Includes a decent all-day heart rate monitor
  • Budget price shows great value

Cons

  • Greyscale screen won’t appeal to everybody
  • Limited smartwatch features

Battery life: Up to 5 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: No
Features: Comes with two straps, greyscale OLED, tracks 15 exercises, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, SmartTrack exercise recognition, connected GPS, sedentary reminders, female health tracking, upgradable bands

The Fitbit Inspire HR is undoubtedly one of the best fitness trackers under $100, although it offers all the features you need to get started in the world of fitness-focused wearables.

Impressively for such an affordable device, the Inspire HR offers pretty reliable heart rate monitoring. This can capture heart rate data over 24-hour periods, allowing you some good insight at your daily exertion and resting heart rate.

In addition to daily activity tracking – such as steps, active minutes and calories burned – the Inspire HR has 15 different dedicated activity profiles. This includes tracking of running, cycling, yoga, tennis and swimming, with the latter made possible thanks to the 5ATM water-resistance rating. A smart choice for the budget shopper.

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Pros

  • Subtle and stylish device that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker
  • Amazing battery life – up to six months!
  • Tracks daily activity and sleep
  • Offers smartphone notification vibrations

Cons

  • Lack of screen reduces the functionality
  • Limited in the activities it tracks

Battery life: Up to 6 months
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: No
GPS: No
Features: Subtle design, anodized aluminum cylinder, multicolor LED display, daily activity tracking, smartphone notifications, sedentary reminders, alarms

Not everybody wants the blatant fitness tracker look – some users prefer a daily activity tracker with a little more subtlety. This is where the Misfit Ray shines! This affordable fitness tracker offers day-to-day activity tracking, while resembling a piece of jewelry.

With a sleek anodized aluminum cylinder and multicolor LED display, the Ray tracks your metrics like steps, distance, calories and sleep. Perhaps most impressively is the battery life, which lasts up to six months before having to be replaced!

Of course, with no screen you do lose some of the functionality and real-time feedback found on other wearables, yet the Ray still offers vibration alerts for smartphone notifications, as well as movement reminders and alarms.

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Pros

  • Eye-catching designs will appeal to kids of all ages
  • Offers an excellent battery life
  • Displays steps, sleep and activity minutes
  • Syncs well with a clever parent-controlled app

Cons

  • Feels a little expensive for a kid’s watch
  • Display screen is very small

Battery life: Up to 1 year
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes
Age: 4 to 7 years
GPS: No
Features: Multiple Disney designs to choose from, color screen, tracks sleep and steps, alarm clock, companion app

There is a segment of the market dedicated to fitness trackers for kids because even the most generous parent would be silly to buy their youngster a $700 Garmin! When it comes to devices for kids, the vívofit Jr 2 stands out as one of the best.

This robust little watch offers a range of cool designs, from Minnie Mouse and Disney Princesses to Star Wars and Spiderman. While the screen is a little on the small side, it displays your child’s steps, sleep and activity minutes. A bonus is that, thanks to the small screen, the battery life lasts up to one year!

One of the best features is the excellent parent-controlled app, allowing you to assign activities, homework and chores, while offering digital ‘payments’ as an incentive.

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Pros

  • Stylish design with a sleek 1.3” screen
  • Offers a great battery life
  • Tracks both formal workouts and daily activity
  • Water resistant up to 50 meters

Cons

  • Lacks the quality of a higher-end watch
  • Features and tracking feel a bit basic

Battery life: Over 10 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
GPS: No
Features: Two strap color choices, rubberized plastic strap, 1.3” screen, tracks 14 activities, music control, smartphone notifications, find phone feature, female health tracking, sedentary reminder, breathing guide

The LETSCOM ID205 was our top pick in the budget fitness trackers category, offering a lot of style and tech for under fifty bucks.

With a design that is similar in style to the high-end Apple Watch, the ID205 offers a 1.3” tempered glass screen that will survive a swimming session thanks to the 5ATM water-resistance rating. It tracks daily activity – including steps, sleep and calories – as well as 14 different workout profiles.

Additional fitness features include connected GPS and a heart rate monitor. Activity aside, the ID205 also allows you to enjoy smartphone notifications on your wrist, as well as the ability to control (although not store) the music on your phone. Perfect for users on a tight budget.

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Category Breakdown

As our top ten chart will have confirmed, there is no one perfect fitness tracker for everybody – a device built for swimmers obviously won’t offer as much appeal to weightlifters.

The same goes for budgets – if you can only afford to spend $100, then a $500 smartwatch probably won’t be much good to you.

We understand. This is why we have categorized our recommendations into specific sections, allowing you to dive into the range that suits you best, whether that’s based on your budget or preferred activities.

Under $50
If you are working to a tight budget, then you don’t have to go without a fitness tracker. In fact, the sub-$50 range offers some of the most choice on the market, with some surprisingly good devices available.

Of course, there are plenty of lemons in this range, yet you can usually expect decent activity tracking, great battery life, and some degree of water resistance. However, for more advanced fitness features you will need to up your budget.

Under $100
Doubling your budget to $100 grants you access to even more fitness trackers, with more advanced activity tracking and secondary features your reward for splashing out.

In this range you can expect to find the first appearances from brands such as Fitbit and Garmin. You will also find devices with better water resistance, automatic activity tracking, and even the first signs of watches with built-in GPS.

Under $200
Welcome to the midrange market. Up to around $200 is the most many people would consider spending on a fitness tracker. The good news is that brand names such as Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung and even Apple all have models available in this affordable range.

While perhaps not as suitable for serious athletes looking for advanced tracking and analysis, most devices in this range offer excellent tracking for multiple activities, 5ATM water-resistance ratings, vibrant screens, and plenty of smartwatch features.

For Running
Welcome to the midrange market. Up to around $200 is the most many people would consider spending on a fitness tracker. The good news is that brand names such as Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung and even Apple all have models available in this affordable range.

While perhaps not as suitable for serious athletes looking for advanced tracking and analysis, most devices in this range offer excellent tracking for multiple activities, 5ATM water-resistance ratings, vibrant screens, and plenty of smartwatch features.

For Swimming
Unlike running trackers, the selection of fitness trackers for swimming is pretty limited. However, most general-purpose activity trackers will offer very good tracking and analysis for pool and open-water swims.

Naturally, a heavy-duty water-resistance rating is essential, while an underwater wrist-based heart rate monitor is desirable (although not as common). Built-in GPS is also desirable if you plan to track your distance accurately or map open-water swims.

For Cycling
Buying a fitness tracker for cycling is pretty easy as most general activity trackers and triathlon-focused wearables offer great cycle tracking and analysis.

Key features to look out for include built-in GPS, which allows you to track your ride without having to bring your smartphone along. A device that includes built-in maps is also a very handy feature.

For CrossFit
Tracking for strength training and dynamic exercise – such as CrossFit and functional fitness – has always lagged behind run, swim and cycle tracking. As such, there are very few strength-dedicated activity trackers on the market.

However, many general-purpose fitness trackers and smartwatches provide good strength tracking and features to make life in the gym more convenient. This includes rep/set input, solid heart rate tracking and music storage, while a robust and comfortable build is essential.

For Women
Truth be told, women can enjoy pretty much any unisex fitness tracker, especially now that many offer more feminine design options as well as smaller sizes/straps to fit slimmer wrists.

In addition to general fitness tracking and smartwatch features, a good fitness tracker for women may include female health tracking, to offer insight into menstrual cycles among other things.

For Kids
If you don’t want your child getting hold of your $700 running watch, it will be wise to buy them a fitness tracker built for kids! These devices are much more limited in what they track, although steps, activity and sleep can be expected – as can a funky kid-friendly design.

You will also find many come with built-in games, along with parent-controlled apps, allowing you to set targets for your child and monitor their progress.

Shopping for a Fitness Tracker

Having read this far, you now know that fitness trackers come in a wide variety of styles suitable for different people and activities. Now you have to figure out which device is best for you. Easier said than done!

This is where the following guide may come in handy. We break down everything you need to consider when buying a fitness tracker, from the physical design to the features.

Design

While the actual function and features of the watch are the most important thing for any active person, the design and build are also significant. Ultimately, you will be wearing this device day-in, day-out, and having something that looks good and feels comfortable is imperative.

Regardless of which price bracket you shop in, you will find a wide variety of styles.

Some devices are blatant fitness trackers and proud of it – with a slim wristband design and possibly snazzy colors. These are usually found in the cheaper end of the market, and work well for many people – especially beginners. However, while they will look great in a gym or on a run, they may not look as good when paired with more formal attire.

If you want to wear your device in work, to a restaurant or at a wedding, you may want to consider a fitness tracker with a more traditional watch design, with a square or circular face.

Many watches in the midrange and high end of the market allow you to remove the straps. This is ideal if you want to keep your silicone strap for the gym or pool, then change to a metal or leather strap for the office.

Aside from aesthetics, a comfortable and secure fit is important. You won’t want to be constantly readjusting your watch because it is too tight, while not being tight enough will impact the effectiveness of the heart rate monitor (if your device has one).

If you have a slimmer wrist, then look for a brand that offers multiple sizes or interchangeable straps. For example, Garmin offers the vivoactive 4 as a ‘4S’ version, which caters for smaller wrists. Other brands do the same with many of their watches.

Screen

The screen is important considering it is the main thing you interact with. Of course, some fitness trackers don’t have screens (instead relying on you to sync the device with your smartphone for detailed analysis), although the majority will have a display screen.

In the lower end of the market, small screens are common, as are black and white (aka ‘greyscale’) displays. These smaller screens are visually less appealing and don’t allow as much data to be displayed, although they do wonders for retaining battery life.

Spending more money on a device usually gives you a much better screen, with crisp resolutions and bright colors. For example, the Apple Watch boasts a vibrant Retina display, with others providing OLED, AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays. While these are a pleasure to look at, the tradeoff is that these screens drain battery at a much quicker pace.

Be sure to know whether you are buying a watch with a touchscreen, as not all devices offer this feature. If you enjoy flicking and tapping the screen – like you would on a smartphone – then be sure to check your desired watch offers this ability.

For example, Garmin’s Fenix series relies on physical buttons on the side of the device, with no touchscreen function at all. This may seem odd, but physical buttons can be more responsive, especially during exercise – touchscreens are notoriously bad when moisture is involved, so using it with a sweaty finger, in the rain, or in the pool often results in a poor experience.

Finally, consider whether you want an ‘always-on’ screen, which is often offered by Apple and Garmin in particular. These devices are great for running, swimming and high-intensity work, as you can quickly glance at your wrist without having to perform a complicated gesture or press a button to wake up the screen.

Of course, an always-on display will usually drain the battery life a little quicker, although the technology used in modern watches means this won’t pose too much of a problem.

Battery

Powering every feature on a smartwatch is the battery, so having a device with a battery life that suits you and your activity is very important.

For example, if you are only using your device to track your time at the gym or your daily run, then you may not need a long battery life. A couple of hours will do.

If, however, you want to wear your device during your morning run, your day at work, your evening at the pool, and to bed to track your sleep through the night, then you will need something which isn’t going to die midway through the day.

There is no ‘typical battery life’ for a fitness tracker or smartwatch. You will find the power on these devices ranges from less than a day to more than a year!

It tends to be the lower end of the market which actually outperforms the higher end, mainly down to the fact that affordable watches lack the same battery-draining features (such as music playback and built-in GPS) as their more expensive cousins.

One thing to keep an eye out for is how battery life differs when certain features are in use. For example, one device may offer a battery life of up to eight days when in standard smartwatch mode, but using the watch with both GPS and music playback will reduce this life to just six hours!

How the watch performs in GPS mode is particularly important if you are a long-distance runner. For example, if you want your device to track your distance and pace with GPS during an ultramarathon (lasting up to 20 hours), a device that will die after 10 hours of GPS use won’t be much good.

While this scenario won’t apply to most general users, it’s worth being aware of what the advertised battery life is actually claiming.

GPS Tracking

GPS tracking is a very useful feature for anybody wanting to accurately record their distance, pace and route on a run, cycle or swim.

Fitness trackers offer two main styles – ‘connected GPS’ and ‘built-in GPS’.

Connected GPS means that your fitness tracker doesn’t have the ability to connect to the satellite itself. Instead, it uses the receiver in your smartphone to accurately display pace, distance and mapping on the watch.

Built-in GPS means that your fitness tracker has a GPS receiver built-in, allowing it to capture accurate GPS signal (and often signal from other satellites including GLONASS, BDS, and Galileo), without the need for a separate device.

Having a built-in GPS receiver is seen as the better option as it will allow you to go running or swimming without having to carry your smartphone. However, this option does drain the battery life of your device considerably more than connected GPS.

Connected GPS is less convenient, although you don’t drain as much power when using it. It can still be useful to see readouts on your watch as you run or cycle, without having to pull the phone out of your pocket or bag.

Water Resistance

‘I don’t want to swim with my fitness tracker, so I can skip this section… right?’

Wrong! Water resistance is more than about just swimming with your device.

Water is around us all the time, especially in the fitness world. Washing your hands or showering after a workout, running in the rain, or just profusely sweating – it all means your device is likely to come into contact with moisture at some point.

Thankfully, even the most basic and affordable devices offer some degree of water resistance. A quick glance at the manufacturer’s website or marketing information will give you indication as to how much water the device can withstand.

While there is more on this in our guide to fitness trackers for swimming, in short, the most common ratings you will see are:

  • – IP67 – protection from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (3.3ft) for up to 30 minutes
    – IP68 – protection from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter (up to the manufacturer to specify the exact depth)
    – 3ATM – protection from immersion in water with a depth of up to 30 meters
    – 5ATM – protection from immersion in water with a depth of up to 50 meters
    – 10ATM – protection from immersion in water with a depth of up to 100 meters
  •  
  • Use these ratings as guides, although check with the individual manufacturer as to what they believe their rating translates to.
  •  
  • For example, some people argue that IP68 is suitable for swimming, while others disagree. Some manufacturers may boldly state that their IP68-rated watch allows you to use it for lengthy swimming sessions, while others claim it is only suitable for using in the rain or while showering.
  •  
  • Ultimately, if Garmin or Fitbit or whichever manufacturer makes your potential device states that it is safe to use while swimming, then consider it is safe.
  •  
  • Be warned that using it for other activities could still damage the watch. This is particularly true if heat is involved, such as saunas, steam rooms or hot tubs. Always check with the manufacturer before you jump in!

Activity Tracking

This is what you came for! A fitness tracker may have a great battery life and water resistance, but it won’t be useful to you unless it accurately tracks your activity.

The most basic fitness trackers will always cover your day-to-day movement. For example, your step count, daily distance, active minutes and floors climbed, among other things, giving you an indication as to how far you move every day.

This is sufficient for many people, especially beginners to fitness and those who are curious about how much activity they actually do on a daily basis.

However, this basic tracking won’t be enough for many active people – which is why most trackers will also feature activity profiles to track your progress during a formal workout. This may include running, cycling, swimming, rowing, strength training and yoga. More advanced trackers may offer profiles for everything from skiing and golf, to stand-up paddleboarding.

Each brand and model will differ in the tracking, analysis and fitness features it offers. For example, most midrange and higher-end watches will provide general running analysis such as GPS-based time, pace and distance, along with cadence and VO2 max.

If you opt for a running-focused device, then you can expect things like specific running coaching and workouts directly from the watch, along with features like pace alerts and race predictors.

Swimming is also an activity covered well by both general activity watches and swim-focused devices, with metrics including distance, pace, stroke rate, stroke distance, stroke count, pace alerts and SWOLF score.

There are many other examples – too many to list here – but it is worth spending time looking at the fitness features the device offers before buying. Ask whether the device will actually be useful for your activity.

It’s also worth considering whether you will end up using most of them. For example, if you are a keen fitness enthusiast, you may benefit from running, swimming and strength training profiles. But do you really need the multisport tracking for snowboarding, mountain biking and kayaking, as well as a Pulse Ox sensor? If not, you may be wasting money on a watch that offers too much!

Heart Rate Monitoring

Being aware of your heart rate is very important if you are aiming for specific goals. Fat loss, increased endurance, and increased lung capacity all rely on working within certain heart rate zones.

The most accurate method of measuring your heart rate during exercise is with a chest strap monitor, which places the monitor close to your heart and uses electrocardiography (ECG) to deliver a close to 100% accurate heart rate reading.

If you find a chest strap uncomfortable or restrictive – or simply don’t want to double up on your devices – then wrist-based devices in both the high and low ends of the market offer built-in heart rate monitors, most of which are very capable.

These devices use a series of LEDs that shine through the skin to detect changes in blood flow in a system known as photoplethysmography (or the easier-to-say ‘PPG’).

The accuracy of these devices is never going to be as precise as an ECG chest strap, yet they will give you a good indicator of how hard you are working in near real-time.

Higher-end devices – particularly from Garmin and Apple – are well-known for providing good accuracy, while lower-priced trackers will sometimes deliver less reliable results. How important you feel wrist-based tracking is will determine how much you should spend on your device.

Sleep Tracking

Recovery and sleep are as important to achieving fitness goals as working out, which is why the ability to track your sleep quality via your fitness wearable can be beneficial.

Many fitness trackers make use of an accelerometer to track your movements during the night. This then gives you information on things like when you went to sleep and woke up, as well as how long you spent in light and deep sleep states.

While these trackers won’t help you diagnose sleep disorders, they may help you better understand your sleeping patterns and help you improve your sleep habits.

Sleep tracking isn’t reason alone to buy a fitness tracker, yet this feature is often built into devices in all price ranges, with the accuracy and functionality differing between manufacturers and models.

Surprisingly, some higher-end devices – such as the Apple Watch – don’t actually offer built-in sleep tracking. This is because the battery life on these watches tends to only last around one day, meaning the watch will be off your wrist and charging most nights, and therefore unable to track your sleep.

If sleep tracking is a must-have feature for you, double check that the device offers it – or at least offers the battery life to cope with it!

Lifestyle Features

Lifestyle features are what we class as those comfort and convenience-enhancing features more associated with a smartwatch. In other words, they aren’t specifically tied to fitness. Here are a few examples:

Smartphone Notifications
Having your smartphone notifications delivered to your watch is a common feature found on fitness trackers costing both $50 and $500!

After being alerted by a vibration, you can check the watch display to see text messages, emails and social media notifications (depending on the device). This is a useful feature that allows you to keep your phone in your pocket when at the gym or out on a run.

If you want to reply, then you will need to ensure the watch actually allows this. While many devices will deliver notifications, not all will allow you to interact with them, so be aware of this before you buy.

Music Storage
Another common feature is music control and storage – and there is a difference between the two. Cheaper devices may offer the ability to control the music on your smartphone. This is handy if you want to skip tracks or pause the music without having to handle your phone. However, without the phone connected, there would be no music.

If you want to have music on the watch that is independent of your phone, look for a higher-end device that allows you to store MP3s, or supports offline music services such as Spotify or Deezer.

By having a storage function, you can leave your phone at home, pop for a run and have your full playlist of motivational tunes with you (providing you have Bluetooth headphones connected).

Contactless Payments
Whether you want to buy your weekly groceries or just a bottle of water at the gym, having the ability to pay directly from your fitness tracker via an NFC contactless payment is surprisingly useful.

With this function (usually found on midrange watches and above), you can confidently go for a run without carrying cash or cards. Just tap your watch at the pay station and you are good to go!

The only consideration here is that you will also need to have an active account with a payment service that is compatible with your device – Apple Pay, Garmin Pay, Fitbit Pay, and so on.

Furthermore, you will need to ensure that your bank is compatible with the payment service. For example, at the time of writing, not every bank in America was compatible with Garmin Pay, while even fewer banks in the UK and the rest of the world were connected. Check the details before you buy, otherwise NFC payments won’t work for you (unless you are willing to change your bank!).

Apps
Your smartphone has apps, and these days so do many smartwatches. These apps increase the functionality and convenience of the wearable. You can naturally find fitness specific apps – such as run trackers or swim trainers – as well as apps to make life easier. This may be something to help you count your calories, order takeout food, or summon an Uber!

It comes as no surprise that Apple lead the way with apps for their wearables, although Garmin and Fitbit also have their own app stores, which are becoming more useful as time goes on.

These smartwatch apps never seem to offer the same functionality as their smartphone counterparts for obvious reasons, yet the ability to do so many things from your wrist is greatly appealing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Fitness trackers improve your health as much as a swimming pool or a good pair of dumbbells improve your health. By this, we mean that strapping on a fitness tracker – just like buying a pair of dumbbells – isn’t going to suddenly turn you into a fitness superstar. Ultimately, it’s up to you to put in the effort!

Now we have stated the obvious, we can confidently say that fitness trackers are great tools when it comes to nurturing good health and fitness.

They can track your daily activity, giving you an indication as to whether or not you are moving enough. They can monitor your heart rate, telling you whether you need to push harder or ease off a little. They can keep an eye on your sleep, so you know if you are getting enough quality shuteye.

All this – and much more – offers great insight into you as a fitness entity, and offers encouragement and motivation.

Fitness trackers also allow you to see your progress over time. Seeing how you have improved can keep you on the right path to peak physical fitness. Equally, seeing that you haven’t improved can motivate you to put more effort into your training.

So, fitness trackers can help make your fitness journey easier, providing you are putting in the work.

Traditionally there was a difference between fitness trackers and smartwatches. For example, the main purpose of a fitness tracker was to monitor your daily activity – including steps, sleep and floors climbed – and worn either as a wristband or a small device that could be clipped onto a bag or belt.

On the other hand, an early smartwatch was aimed more at making life more convenient, with features typically offered by a PDA – time, alarms, calendars, messages and even the ability to make calls.

These days the line has been blurred!

Fitness trackers now tend to offer lifestyle features such as smartphone notifications and music storage, while smartwatches tend to be a lot more fitness focused. In fact, some high-end smartwatches – such as the Apple Watch – are seen as better fitness devices than many dedicated fitness trackers.

Ultimately, we suggest forgetting semantics and instead going for a device that suits you. This means looking at all the information and judging whether the device fits your budget, tastes and goals.

Fitbit is a name synonymous with fitness trackers – and it’s hardly surprising, as the Californian brand has sold more than 100 million devices since first launching the original Fitbit tracker more than ten years ago.

But is Fitbit still the best activity tracker on the market?

Fitbit offers some excellent affordable midrange models, with the Versa 2 proving one of the most popular fitness trackers under $200 at the time of writing (January 2020). Fitbits tend to cater very well for everyone from beginners to intermediate athletes looking for solid fitness tracking for multiple activities.

However, if you want something more focused and in-depth, you must look past Fitbit and towards other brands such as Garmin. For example, the Garmin Fenix 6 is seen as one of the best fitness trackers of all time, with a plethora of detailed multisport tracking, training and analysis features.

Garmin also offers excellent watches built specifically for runners and for swimmers, allowing you to find a device that is tailored to your activity.

If you prefer more of a smartwatch with great fitness features, Apple’s collection of Apple Watches is hard to look past.

Of course, many Garmin and Apple Watch devices are very expensive. If you aren’t willing to spend much more than $200, then Fitbits are still a worthwhile consideration!

In general, most modern fitness trackers can be used independently of a smartphone. Especially in the higher end of the market, you can enjoy features like built-in GPS, onboard music storage, and all the activity tracking you need without ever requiring your phone.

In fact, some smartwatches go a step further and offer cellular connectivity, allowing you to send messages, make calls and browse the internet with no need for a smartphone.

However, many fitness trackers will still require you to pair the watch to a smartphone at least for the initial setup of the device. Whether or not this is a necessity will depend on the make and model of your watch.

Pairing your device to your phone can be a good thing, as fitness trackers tend to come with companion apps such as Garmin Connect, or third-party apps such as MyFitnessPal. These will offer you more in-depth data about your daily health, activity and workouts. Using these apps isn’t essential, even though they can be very useful.

Before you leave your phone at home, be aware that some fitness trackers have features that still rely on having a phone nearby. This is particularly relevant in the budget market.

For example, some affordable devices may use things like connected GPS (where the wearable uses the GPS receiver of your phone) and music control (where the wearable controls the music on your phone), which means you still need the phone with you to make use of these features.

The Ver(ve)dict!

Buying a fitness tracker isn’t a requirement for good fitness. After all, athletes such as Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack LaLanne all reached the very top without a fitness tracker in sight!

However, for the modern athlete, fitness enthusiast and casual exerciser, having a fitness tracker strapped to your wrist can be a big boost in helping you analyze your activity and health, while motivating you to push harder.

We hope our chart has helped you find the right device for you, although be sure to browse the wider market as there are hundreds of worthwhile models out there. Use the information in our guide to make an informed decision, and you will soon find a wearable fitness pal worthy of accompanying you to any workout!

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